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Austin OKs plan to buy and retrofit a motel to house homeless

Friday, November 15, 2019 by Andrew Weber, KUT

The Austin City Council unanimously passed an $8 million plan to buy and repurpose the Rodeway Inn in South Austin to house people transitioning out of homelessness.

The motel could house at least 87 people.

Billed as a more proactive approach to provide more immediate housing, the proposal allows the city to buy the land using money initially allocated for an emergency shelter off Banister Lane and Ben White Boulevard. The deal will be finalized after a 90-day review period.

The Ending Community Homelessness Coalition would lease and operate the facility, which aims to house people without preconditions like mandatory case management or substance abuse treatment. It’s a strategy ECHO Executive Director Matt Mollica has used previously in his work with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

Before Council’s discussion, Mark Thompson, vice president of the Timber Ridge Condo and Townhome Homeowners Association, said the decision could increase crime and drug activity in the neighborhood behind the motel.

“We just feel that this is going to bring down the value of our homes and tear down the community completely,” he said.

Mollica welcomed that discussion and said it goes “a long way to addressing the NIMBYism” associated with homelessness.

“I believe that everybody deserves a dignified place to sleep … and we believe hotels are a step toward that,” he said. “With Council approval, I can assure the people in that community that the support needed … will be present. We’ll be active in that community, and I’d be happy to be available to the neighborhood association.”

Similar arguments were made when the city decided to buy land at Banister and Ben White in June. Residents also argued the city rushed the timeline on the deal.

District 7 Council Member Alison Alter echoed the need to house homeless Austinites, but expressed concern about the timeline as well.

“We are operating within a real estate market that works very quickly, and so we have to make decisions if we want to buy properties on a pace that, as an elected official who would like us to have more engagement, is rather uncomfortable,” Alter said.

The decision comes as the city firms up its strategy to house homeless people after rolling back rules governing behavior related to homelessness. The city’s plan to end homelessness, which it passed last year, focused more on long-term strategies.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT. Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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